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  • Identifying Talent, Institutionalizing Diversity: Race and Philanthropy in Post-Civil Rights America
  • Eugene D. Miller
Identifying Talent, Institutionalizing Diversity: Race and Philanthropy in Post-Civil Rights America By Jiannbin Lee Shiao Duke University Press, 2005. 295 pages. $84.95 (cloth); $23.95 (paper)

In Identifying Talent, Institutionalizing Diversity, Jiannbin Lee Shiao, explores the formation of race policy in elite private institutions in the post-Civil Rights era. Citing Omi and Winnart (1986), he asserts that "race must be understood as an unstable and 'decentered' complex of social meanings constantly being transformed by political struggle," and that foundation diversity policy offers unique insight into how "private institutions have negotiated the inherent [End Page 592] complexities and contradictions of attempting to institutionalize a revolution in race relations."

Shiao argues that in the 1980s foundation thinking about race policy and grant making underwent an evolution from a black-centered, radical perspective focused on "good causes" to a non-white-centered approach that emphasizes good strategy and "inclusive expertise." The new paradigm is to move beyond confrontation to achieving advancement through professional channels in mainstream institutions.

What prompted the shift? Shiao's answer rests on an analysis of the leadership role of The Ford Foundation. Though the new wave of immigration begins with passage of the family reunification legislation in 1965, it is not until the Reagan presidency that foundations, influenced by Ford, craft a "post-black" discourse to limit the effects of conservative political forces. This thesis rests on an analytic reading of the main field publication, Foundation News & Commentary (from 1961-1988), and a comparative examination of the development of race-based initiatives at the Cleveland and San Francisco foundations.

His history concludes that Ford is politically "activist" but "elitist," and grantor funds have a positive effect but ultimately serve to de-radicalize movements. Translating to the diversity paradigm he cites Allen (1969) who argues that white business support of black protest groups can be attributed to the larger economic system's ability to transform "expressions of conscience into instruments of control." Does Shiao buy this neo-colonial view? No, his approach is more nuanced. He writes that Ford's ultimate motivation is to develop particular relationships. In the 1960s the purpose of the relationships was to develop demonstration projects for adoption by governmental agencies, and in the conservative 1980s, to secure institutional stature in the aftermath of "losing significant political capital," as Ford searched for new allies in its efforts to further racial equality.

The culmination of Shiao's work is the argument that racial formation in the post-Civil Rights era occurs in an institutionally segmented context. Interviews with foundation trustees, program officers, local political informants and nonprofit heads in Cleveland and San Francisco give rise to a nuanced framework for understanding how racial identification affects professional performance and institutional culture. Shiao's well taken finding is that diversity policy provides a limited account of how philanthropic actors view foundation participation in race relations. Race has secondary saliency, dependent on the individual's position (trustee or staff) in the institution.

The heart of his argument is that race relations are not limited to issues between individuals and the state, but also occur and are shaped in various institutional domains. Institutional segmentation offers a theory of how a legislative agenda – arising out of a set of historical circumstance and affected by changing political, economic and demographic developments – is shaped by private elite organizations. The focus of this study is foundations. However, the analysis lends itself to other hierarchical institutions, and the use of the theory to understand the business sector's diversity practices is not lost on the author.

His conclusion is simultaneously heartening and foreboding. "What distinguishes the post-Civil Rights era may not be a new monolithic hierarchy [End Page 593] but a crazy quilt of institutionally differentiated racial policies," and "we can no longer speak of race relations in singular terms; instead we must turn to studying its relative coherence across [and within] institutional settings." This well may be the case, but remember that the impetus behind the Civil Rights movement was to impose a universal legislative solution to what was an oppressive blanket of private...


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